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HEAT THERAPY

All You Need To Know

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Updated: July 30th, 2022

Jump to The Best Hot Packs

Hot packs can help reduce your knee pain and get you back in action. But you need to know when heat is right. And how to do it correctly.

THE BASICS

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WHEN & WHY TO HEAT

Hot packs are great for sore muscles. They tend to be the right move when you have a chronic condition and want to "loosen up" a stiff joint. Most likely you are really loosening up the muscles surrounding the joint. This is achieved by promoting blood flow to the muscles. When you place heat on an area, your body responds by expanding the blood vessels. This allows more blood and oxygen to be delivered to the area. Better circulation tends to reduce muscle stiffness and pain. COMMON CONDITIONS FOR HOT PACKS - Muscle soreness a couple days after exercising - Arthritis - Chronic pain (fibromyalgia) - Muscle spasms WHEN NOT TO HEAT - You have an injury that occurred recently, significant swelling, or redness in the area. - You have an infection. - You have a blood clot. - Over open wounds - Over areas of impaired or altered sensation (numbness, tingling etc.) - If you have a bleeding disorder. - Over joints with acute hemarthrosis (bleeding in a joint.) - Local tumors are present - Have existing skin problems characterized by redness or blistering. This list is general in nature. Contact your physician before trying heat.

HOW TO HEAT 

Duration: Heat for 10-20 minutes at a time Use a Skin Barrier: Place a towel between your skin and the hotpack. This will help avoid any damage to the underlying skin. Intensity: You want the heat to be comfortable. Listen to your body. If it feels too warm, add another layer or take a break. Check Skin: Make sure you are not damaging the underlying skin by checking occasionally. Frequency: 1-2 times a day is the maximum we would recommend using hot packs. Make sure you take at least a couple hour break between sessions. - Never sleep on a hot pad. Once again, listen to your body! Heating should not hurt. If it does, ease off.

THE EVIDENCE

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EVIDENCE RATING: FAIR (+)

The evidence supporting the use of heat therapy is varied and limited by the quality of studies. One study by Yildirim et al (1) studied the effect of supervicial local heat application with a digital moist heating pad. It was applied 20 minutes a day for 4 weeks. The results showed the heat treatment reduced pain and improved function in subjects with knee osteoarthritis. However, it had no effect on stiffness. Another study in 2011 (2) took a look at when therapeutic exercise and heat applications were performed together. The results showed reduced pain and stiffness, with improved physical function. While this is promising, there have been other studies less supportive of heat therapy. For instance, a 2004 study by Mazzuca et al. (3) compared a warm kneepad and an elastic kneepad made of cotton. They found no significant difference between groups. Anecdotally, individual suffering from joint arthritis have reported relief with hotpacks since, well, since records were kept. Take altogether, we give the clinical support a Fair(+) rating.

REFERENCED STUDIES

1.Yıldırım N, Ulusoy MF, Bodur H. Effect of Heat Application on Pain, Stiffness, Physical Function and Quality of Life in Patients with Knee Osteoarthritis. J Clin Nurs 2010;19:1113-1120. 2. Shereif WI, Hassanin AA. Comparison between Uses of Therapeutic Exercise and Heat Application on Relieve Pain, Stiffness and Improvement of Physical Function for Patient with Knee Osteoarthritis, Life Sci J 2011;8(3):388-396. 3. Mazzuca SA, Page MC, Meldrum RS, Brandt KD, Petty-Saphon S. Pilot study of the effects of a heat-retaining knee sleeve on joint pain, stiffness, and function in patients with knee osteoarthritis. Arthritis Rheum 2004;51(5):716-721.

YOUR OPTIONS

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HOT PACKS

Hotpacks you can buy over the counter are easy to heat up and reusable. These have come a long way in recent years. Today's units have features such as multiple heat settings, auto-shutoff, and even cordless battery powered options.

WARM WATER

Who doesn't love the feeling of settling into a hot tub? This can be a nice and simple option for general soreness. Particularly, if you have more than one area of the body you need to apply heat to. Make sure the water is not too hot. A good temperateure is between 90-100 degrees. Be even more careful if you have a history of heart problems.

HOT COMPRESS

You can make a homemade heating pad quite easily. Put a wet washcloth in a freezer bag and warm it in the microwave for around a minute (this will vary dependong on the size of the towel and power of your microwave.) Be careful when taking it out of the microwave. Check it with a few taps of your fingers to make sure there are no super hot spots that could injure your skin. Place the warm compress on the sore region for 10-20 minutes.

Hot packs are best used for chronic joint pain and muscle soreness. They should not be used for acute injuries or if significant swelling is present. The evidence is Fair(+) supporting heat therapy as a joint care strategy.

CONCLUSIONS

THE BEST

Cool Relief   |   Flexikold

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FEATURES

  • 3 settings allow you to find the right heat intensity

  • Filling is guaranteed non-toxic, BPA-free, lead-free, and phthalate free

  • Excellent weight helps transfer heat evenly

  • Micromink material is easy to maintain

WHY WE LIKE IT

We loved the weight and even heat transfer of the Pure Enrichment Weighted Warmth Pad. Lighter pads tend to shift around more. You also find yourself pressing down on them to keep an even pressure on the thigh. We had none of these issues with this heating pad. 

This company also has a reputation for excellent customer service. And a 5-year warranty.

Highly recommend.

FEATURES

  • 3 heat settings, 2 hour auto-shutoff

  • 9-foot cord, compact controller

  • Contoured design that wraps smoothly around the knee

  • Freezable gel pack included for icing

WHY WE LIKE IT

Sometimes you don't want to sit around for 20 minutes without moving a bit. The Sunbeam Heating Pad Wrap is easy to take on and off. Fits snugly around the knee to facilitate adequate heat transfer. Our biggest knock on the product is that it only comes in one size. This can be an issue for individuals with larger knees. If you are such a person, we recommend going with the larger, Pure Enrichment Pad, that was our number one choice. 

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